Who gets to keep the house in a Maryland divorce?

Anyone going through a divorce in Maryland should understand the state’s laws when it comes to dividing property.

In order to obtain an absolute divorce in Maryland, the divorcing couple must meet certain grounds, such as having voluntarily lived apart for a year or one spouse has committed adultery. Once a court has the reason for an absolute divorce, it can grant property division.

Property division in Maryland is not based on what is equal, but rather on what is fair. Anyone who is ending a marriage should have a firm grasp on how the division process will go.

Understanding marital property

Only assets that are considered marital property will be eligible for division. Marital property is generally any item that is obtained after the marriage. However, certain items, such as inheritance and gifts from a third party, may be accepted. Additionally, it is possible for some non-marital property to become a marital asset. For example, if one spouse had a savings account prior to marriage and then commingled it with a joint account, those funds would likely be considered marital assets.

Dividing assets

A couple ending their marriage has the ability to try to determine their own plan for asset division. Through a process such as mediation, the spouses can work together to divide all their property, from bank accounts and cars to dishes and linens. The court will have to approve the agreement, however, and ensure that it is fair.

If the couple cannot reach a fair agreement, the court will make the determinations. The law states that when dividing property, a judge may take into account the following:

  • How much every asset is worth
  • Spousal support payments
  • The current economic status of each spouse
  • What each spouse contributed to the marriage
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The mental and physical health of both parties

The law also gives a judge flexibility to take into account any other factor that a party may present. Further, it is possible to divide assets based on value rather than splitting them. Therefore, one spouse may get to keep the house, and the other may be granted equal funds in a savings account. Or, the couple could decide to sell the home and divide the proceeds accordingly.

Debt considerations

Division of debt is complex in a Maryland divorce and a lawyer should be consulted to understand how it is likely to be divided if the matter is before a judge. Broadly, debt is either marital, meaning that it was incurred to acquire marital property, or nonmarital, meaning incurred for another purpose than to acquire marital property.

In Maryland, the court has the power to divide marital debt, but not nonmarital debt. Examples of marital debt could include a mortgage taken out after marriage to buy the family residence or a car loan acquired during the marriage to buy a vehicle.

Instead of the judge dividing debt, the parties may divide it as part of a negotiated marital settlement agreement. Experts recommend dividing debt carefully. Attempting to share the debt — such as having both spouses make payments — can pose an issue because if one person misses a payment, it could reflect poorly on the other’s credit history. Instead, couples should strive to balance debts so one person is responsible for an entire item.

Property and debt division can quickly grow complex, especially if a family business or high net worth individuals are involved. Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a family law attorney in Maryland.